cuba hip hop (8)HAVANA, 12 December   (AP) – For more than two years, a U.S. agency secretly infiltrated Cuba’s underground hip-hop movement, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The idea was to use Cuban musicians “to break the information blockade” and build a network of young people seeking “social change,” documents show. But the operation was amateurish and profoundly unsuccessful. On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware, and in some cases it contained information that jeopardized Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine U.S. operation.

Still, contractors working for the U.S. Agency for International Development kept putting themselves and their targets at risk, the AP investigation found. They also ended up compromising Cuba’s vibrant hip-hop culture — which has produced some of the hardest-hitting grassroots criticism since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Artists that USAID contractors tried to promote left the country or stopped performing after pressure from the Cuban government, and one of the island’s most popular independent music festivals was taken over after officials linked it to USAID.

The program is laid out in documents involving Creative Associates International, a Washington, D.C., contractor paid millions of dollars to undermine Cuba’s communist government. The thousands of pages include contracts, emails, preserved chats, budgets, expense reports, power points, photographs and passports. The work included the creation of a “Cuban Twitter” social network and the dispatch of inexperienced Latin American youth to recruit activists, operations that were the focus of previous AP stories.

“Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false,” USAID said in a statement Wednesday. Its programs were aimed at strengthening civil society “often in places where civic engagement is suppressed and where people are harassed, arrested, subjected to physical harm or worse.” Creative Associates did not immediately respond to a request for comment. At first, the hip-hop operation was run in Cuba by Serbian contractor Rajko Bozic. His project was inspired by the protest concerts of the student movement that helped undermine former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

Nine years later, Bozic headed public relations for Serbia’s EXIT Festival, an annual music event that had grown out of the student movement. Contractors would recruit scores of Cuban musicians for projects disguised as cultural initiatives but really aimed at boosting their visibility and stoking a movement of fans to challenge the government. Bozic spoke to the AP earlier this year but declined to talk about the Cuba program. The slender Serb homed in swiftly on Los Aldeanos, a hip-hop group frustrated by official pressure and widely respected by Cuban youth for its hard-hitting lyrics.

“People marching blind, you have no credibility,” the group rapped in “Long Live Free Cuba!” ”Go and tell the captain — this ship’s sinking rapidly.” Creative used a Panama front company and a bank in Lichtenstein to hide the money trail from Cuba, where thousands of dollars went to fund a TV program starring Los Aldeanos. It would be distributed on DVDs to circumvent Cuba’s censors. Then the Colombian rock star Juanes announced a September 2009 concert in the heart of Havana.

Creative managers held a two-day strategy session on how to persuade Juanes to let Los Aldeanos perform with him. It didn’t happen, but Juanes publicly thanked the rappers after the concert and was photographed with them. The contractors were pleased; they believed this kind of public support by a major celebrity would protect Los Aldeanos from state pressure. In a statement Wednesday, a Juanes spokesman, John Reilly, said that the concert had no political agenda and that “Juanes and the other organizing artists did not have any knowledge” of what others did.
Later the month of the concert, Los Aldeanos’ charismatic front man, Aldo Rodriguez, was detained for illegal possession of a computer. Xavier Utset, who ran the program for Creative, saw the arrest as a “perfect test” of whether raising Aldo’s profile would keep out of jail. In the end, a relative of Aldo’s phoned Silvio Rodriguez, himself a legendary singer.

Rodriguez, in an AP interview in Havana, said he called a friend in Cuba’s Culture Ministry and asked for the computer to be returned. If there was a problem, he told the friend, “tell them I gave them the computer as a present.” “Evidently he did what I said,” Rodriguez said. “I never imagined that a program like this could exist … When you find out you could be surrounded by a conspiracy, it’s shocking.” At one point, the contractors approached a government sex education institute run by President Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, to be part of the EXIT Festival in Serbia, even as its organizers were running the anti-Castro hip-hop operation.

One contractor said it would be “mind blowing” to be working with the president’s family. Mariela Castro told the AP that her institute sent two representatives to the festival but didn’t build deeper ties because the festival “didn’t have anything to do with the work we were doing.” Contractors paid $15,000 to underwrite an arts and music festival put on by the family of Pablo Milanes, the famed singer of “nueva trova” music and a man with close government ties.

Their secret aim was to seed “the minds of festival organizers with new ideas” and persuade them to send “high-impact messages” to the audience, read one report. Milanes’ daughter, Suylen Milanes, said government officials showed up the day before the festival and warned her that she was associating with unsavory characters. They even showed her copies of Bozic’s emails, which they called suspicious, she recalled. Her father declined to comment. Clearly, Cuban officials had figured out what was going on. Bozic was detained coming into Havana with equipment, including a potentially incriminating memory stick, generating anxiety among the contractors. He cut his trip short and other contractors were told he wouldn’t be returning soon.

Then, Cuban authorities detained a photographer working with Adrian Monzon, the only Cuban who documents show knowingly worked for Creative Associates on the hip-hop program. State security then interrogated Monzon, a video jockey. He told Creative that the Cuban authorities were worried about Bozic and suspected links to the CIA. Four months later, Los Aldeanos left Cuba for their first trip off the island to perform at the EXIT festival in Serbia. On the side, they were the unwitting recipients of leadership training meant “to focus them a little more on their role as agents of social mobilization,” wrote Utset, a veteran of Cuban pro-democracy efforts.

Monzon was detained again returning to Havana in April 2011, his computer and a memory stick seized. When they were returned, he realized they contained a document with the names of two Creative Associates managers. It was a devastating blow. Monzon and Utset did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Aldo would only say that his “conscience is clear.” While Bozic spoke with AP about his work with the EXIT festival, he did not respond to requests for comment on his Cuba work. In August 2010, Los Aldeanos took the stage at Rotilla, one of Cuba’s largest independent music festivals.

Before a crowd of about 15,000 people, they lacerated government officials by name and taunted the police. “The police instead of making me hate them, inspire pity, because they are such sh— eaters they don’t even realize they are victims of the system. Viva Cuba libre,” Aldo’s partner rapped. Within months, a USAID contractor told his handlers that the Cubans said USAID had infiltrated the festival, and soon enough, the Cubans took it over. . In the end, Los Aldeanos moved to South Florida after complaining that the Cuban government made it impossible for them to work in their own country. Their most recently published lyrics are softer-edged.

havana-live-Habanos-Fesitval-XVII-2015HAVANA, 11 December  Habanos S.A. has formally announced the dates and program notes of the Habanos Festival XVII, happening Feb. 23-27, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.

The Festival will feature a focus on two of the largest Cuban marcas, Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo. The former will be featured in this year’s Gran Reserva Cosecha cigar release on the first day of the festival, with a special 80th Anniversary cigar created for the latter of the two brands to be unveiled on Feb. 27.
La Casa del Habano, the official retailer of Habanos S.A., is also celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special dinner on Feb. 25th to honor the 146 franchises of the store around the world.

The Festival will also feature the annual Humidor Auction to raise money for the Cuban healthcare system, a visit to tobacco fields in Pinar del Río and cigar factories in Havana, a trade fair, international Habanosommelier contest and seminars on food and wine pairings for Cuban cigars.

 havana-live-vivir al quentoHAVANA, 10 December (By Anne-Marie Garcia) AP  Panfilo, the elderly protagonist in a weekly show on Cuban state television, has a broken water pipe in his house. When the city repair worker says it’ll take six months to fix, Panfilo bribes her with a bottle of shampoo and the repair is made the following day.

The audience bursts into laughter when the worker shows up in the next scene with her hair fried by Panfilo’s shampoo, stolen from parts unknown and adulterated with mystery chemicals.
A new wave of Cuban comedians is drawing big broadcast audiences and huge live crowds, using biting humor to take on corruption, shortages, government inefficiency and other everyday problems in a country where the government tolerates little dissent.

Comedian Luis Silva plays Panfilo, a senior citizen at the center of a circle of friends and family on the Monday night show “Vivir del cuento,” which roughly translates to “Surviving By Your Wits.”
Cuba doesn’t release ratings information, but “Vivir del cuento” is the closest state TV comes to water-cooler popularity for programming that is usually a stultifying mix of public affairs, sports and subtitled shows from the U.S. and other countries. On Tuesday mornings, Cubans discuss the jokes from the previous evening’s show.

Fans pack clubs and theaters in Havana and other cities for live shows by Silva and comedians with similarly acerbic styles, often waiting for hours to buy 20-peso (80 U.S. cents) tickets. Silva “speaks to the social reality of our country with humor. He doesn’t cover things up. He makes us think, and I hope he makes the people in power in this country think, too,” teacher Yahima Morales said as she left a live show in Havana late last month.
The jokes resonate deeply with Cubans frustrated by petty corruption, scarcity of many goods and the poor quality of even the most basic staples. The comics and their fans say the ability to publicly joke about the failings of Cuba’s stagnant, centrally planned economy is a sign of at least a temporary loosening on the culture front.

The government has always allowed a certain amount of artistic freedom to criticize the state in films such as “Strawberry and Chocolate” or “Juan of the Dead.” But the new comics poke fun at the struggles of Cuban daily life in a way unimaginable in state media or a state-sanctioned public performance a decade ago. “Ten years ago this was unthinkable.
Cuban television didn’t touch these complicated topics of Cuban society,” said comedian Carlos Gonzalo, who plays Mentepollo, a yakky know-it-all on the weekly show “Deja que yo te cuente,” or “Let Me Tell You.” In a recent live show, Panfilo joked about U.S. customs agents confiscating state-baked rolls he was bringing to his sister in Miami, testing them for traces of drugs and explosives.

They found nothing suspicious, but couldn’t believe the products were really bread. “How am I supposed to tell this guy that we actually eat this stuff?” Panfilo asked, as the audience broke into laughter. Still, the jokes of Silva and his fellow comedians don’t even approach the truly harsh, and often deeply dirty, jokes that Cubans direct at each other and their government in daily life. The comedians also admit that two powerful men remain out of bounds.
“There’s a limit that goes by the names Fidel Castro and Raul Castro,” said Alejandro Garcia, a founding figure of the social comedy wave who performs under the name Virulo. He added, however, that he avoids criticizing them out of respect for their accomplishments, not from fear or censorship. The comedians, like many Cuban artists, work under the formal oversight of the state, in their case for the Ministry of Culture’s 20-year-old Humor Promotion Center, which supervises their contracts with performance venues.

The comedians were declared tax-exempt last year, meaning they can keep all of their earnings, but that benefit may not be permanent, said Enrique Quinones, director of the Humor Promotion Center. Garcia said he hopes the broader opening in Cuban comedy becomes permanent and sustainable.
Other openings, both economic and artistic, have been quickly followed by government crackdowns. “The essence of comedy is that it’s subversive, critical, taking on those in power,” he said. “This country has to transform itself and criticism is playing an important role … Hopefully comedy gets us to change and become better.”

 havana-live-cantetHavana,10 December (AFP) The film “Return to Ithaca,” a story of Cuban friendship and disillusionment with the country’s revolution was delisted from Havana’s Latin American film festival, the film’s producers said Tuesday.

French producer Didar Domehri told AFP the director of the festival Ivan Giroud had sent producers a letter of acceptance after he saw the film in Toronto and then later he sent a letter rescinding the offer. “We do not know the reasons of the cancellation. It’s hard for us and for all the Cubans of the team,” she said.
The film directed by Laurent Cantet tells the story of five friends who celebrate one of their friends’ return to Cuba after a 16-year exile in Spain. It had not obtained a formal approval from Cuban authorities for showing in the Communist island country, producers said. The film was shot over the course 17 days in Havana with Cuban actors, including star Jorge Perugorria.

“Return to Ithaca” takes place on a single night on a sea-side terrace. The film uses the friends to tell a story of disillusionment after the Cuban revolution and the struggles of the economic crisis following the collapse of the Soviet empire. Co-written by renowned Cuban writer and journalist Leonardo Padura, the film received recognition at several film festivals
. When asked about the film’s absence, the festival director Giroud said that the film’s category was no longer permitted. The producers still want the film to be seen by the Cuban public. “It would be good for Cubans to see this film. It is not a political film, but Cuban history, human history,” Domehri said.

HAVANA, 9 December  (Photo by Juan Suarez) Take a nighttime look outside some of the most popular venues at the Riviera, Chaplin, Yara, Rampa and Multicine theaters.img_9068   havana-live-yara1   havana-live-yara  havana-live-riviera1   havana-live-yara2   havana-live-CINEMA-Havana    havana-live-CINEMA-Havana    havana-live-CINEMA-Havana    havana-live-CINEMA-Havana    havana-live-CINEMA-Havana    havana-live-CINEMA-Havana

havana-live-lennonJuan Gonzalez, poses for a photo next to the bronze statue of the late Beatle John Lennon in Havana

HAVANA, 9 December  When a statue of Lennon was inaugurated in a leafy Havana park 14 years ago, souvenir-seekers kept stealing the iconic circular spectacles that adorned it. When officials tried to glue them on, vandals simply broke them off. The solution: Gonzalez, the guardian of John Lennon’s glasses, who has spent nearly all his days at the park for the last 14 years.
He places the glasses gently on the crooner’s nose when tourists show up to snap pictures, then tucks them away in his pocket when they leave.
Despite his 97 years of age, Gonzalez says he’s not ready to quit this one-man mission to help preserve the memory of one of music’s all-time greats.

 havana-live-7worldwonderDubai, United Arab Emirates: Announcing the names of the New7Wonders Cities, Bernard Weber, Founder-President of New7Wonders, said: “I would like to thank everyone who have helped promote the New7Wonders Cities campaign since its inception in 2011.

We began with more than 1,200 nominees from 220 different countries and here have 7 that represent the global diversity of urban society. For the first time in human history, more than half of our planet’s population lives in cities and this election emphasises the dramatically challenging character of our changing world.”
Bernard Weber thanked the New7Wonders Cities Panel of Experts, which advised on the selection of the 28 Official Finalist Candidates in October last year, and he congratulated the voters who narrowed the selection down to 7 through the subsequent elimination phases.

The results announced this evening in Dubai are based on the counting of votes since the campaign ended at 7 am GMT this morning. They will now be checked, validated and independently verified. Once the verification process has been completed, New7Wonders will then work with the confirmed cities to organise Official Inauguration events. Note: If it happens that any of the cities announced this evening is not confirmed during the verification process, New7Wonders will issue a media update when this occurs.

havana-live-paridise-lost-benicio-del-toroHAVANA, 7 December   Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro, one of the stars invited to the 36th Havana International New Latin American Film Festival, is scheduled to receive a prize on Sunday, when he will screen his new film “Escobar: Paradise Lost.”

“It’s hard to put into words what it means to me that a festival with such a high quality and history like this one is giving me a prize,” the actor told state media on his arrival in Havana, a city he has visited several times.
Del Toro, who played Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) in the “Che” films made by American director Steven Soderbergh, said Cuba was important to his career because of the two films. The films about Che were screened at the film festival in Havana in December 2008 by the Puerto Rican actor, whose role as the Argentine revolutionary won him the best actor prize at Cannes.

Del Toro returned to Cuba in 2011 to direct “El Yuma,” one of the shorts in “Siete dias en La Habana” (Seven Days in Havana), a Franco-Spanish co-production. Del Toro’s latest project tells the story of late Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar, a role that won him the Donosti Prize at Spain’s San Sebastian Film Festival. EFE

 havana-live-nine p.m. cannon shotHAVANA, Dec 7  (acn) The nine p.m. cannon shot, a centuries-old tradition of Havana nights that takes place at the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress, was declared Cultural Heritage of the Cuban Nation.

The official declaration was delivered during the military ceremony by Gladys Collazo, president of the National Council of Cultural Heritage in recognition of the universal significance that this practice has reached, which has become a symbol of the Cuban capital.
The traditional cannon shot at nine in the evening began in the eighteenth century since from that fortress they fired a salvo to announce neighbors when closing or opening the doors of the wall or placing the chain that closed the harbor entrance.

At that time the town was surrounded by a wall defining its limits; of that work there are still some sections in what is now Old Havana. For over 300 years ago Havana inhabitants have heard the blast, which it was also part of a military regulation for the Spanish fleet sailors, then reached a value of social use and subsequently became a tradition, museologist Migleidis Escalona told ACN.

The specialist explained that the ceremony hasn’t taken place on a few occasions, including during World War II and US intervention in Cuba, and besides that from La Cabaña, it was perfomed from the ship Infanta Isabel anchored at the entrance of the bay during the nineteenth century.

Each time the ceremony has been developed in accordance with the practices used by the Spanish and Cuban armies, however currently a military fantasy that imitate the technique of colonial stage is used, Escalona said.

 havana-live-caricomHAVANA, 6 December  Heads of State and Government of the member nations of the Caribbean Community(CARICOM), and regional organizations, will be arriving in Havana this Saturday, to participate in the Fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit.

According to the program released by the Cuban Foreign Ministry, the presidents of Surinam, Grenada, Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda are expected to arrive on different noon flights in José Martí International Airport.
The arrival of the heads of delegations of Barbados, Jamaica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is also expected, and the heads of the Association of Caribbean States, the Caribbean Community and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.

In December 2002 the CARICOM-Cuba mechanism was founded, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the date when Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago decided, in a brave gesture in 1972, to establish relationships with the largest Caribbean nation in open challenge to isolationist siege that Washington had on the island.
From that moment, every three years the summits of heads of state and government meet, with a clear integration objective, on the basis of equality, respect and understanding, where Cuba and its Caribbean neighbors review what has been achieved in collaboration and commerce.

havana-live-meo-australiaAlong the northern coast of Cuba is Block 9, assigned to the Australian oil company MEO.

HAVANA, 5 December (By Wilfredo Cancio Isla Café Fuerte)  The company MEO Australia Limited will join the onshore oil exploration effort in Cuba after signing a production sharing contract with the Cuban state oil company Cupet. The Australian firm announced Thursday the signing of the agreement with Cupet after a negotiation process that lasted two years. It allows for exploring the Block 9 oilfields on the north coast of Cuba.

The start of operations is subject to final regulatory approval. “MEO has been in talks with CUPET since early 2013 when it was classified as a potential oil operator on land and in shallow waters. Block 9 was always a favorite of MEO due to the confirmed presence of hydrocarbons and proximity to production and existing infrastructure, “said a statement from the firm, based in Melbourne.

New oil approach
The signing with MEO is part of the new approach to Cuban oil exploration, which has chosen to turn the page on the once highly touted projects for deep-water drilling and concentrate on producing wells on land after several unsuccessful attempts in the Gulf of Mexico.

MEO joins the Russian state-controlled Rosneft and the Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC), which earlier this year agreed to extract more heavy crude and support horizontal drilling of new wells on the northwest coast of the island, but without signing agreements for deep-water drilling in the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, an area of 112,000 square kilometers divided into 59 blocks.

Rosneft, CNPC and now MEO, join efforts for heavy oil extraction with the Canadian company Sherritt International, a pioneer of foreign investment in Cuba, and Zarubezhneft, the second state oil company in Russia. The MEO exploration program is divided into four sub-periods for a total of eight and a half years with an option that the Australian company can withdraw from the project whenever they complete a stage.

The work plan includes a commitment negotiated for an initial period of 18 months during which seismic data will be evaluated and reprocessed before the company decides whether to continue with a 24-month exploration phase.

Heavy oil
The block selected by the Australians covers approximately 2,380 square kilometers, at the height of the villages of Corralillo and Rancho Veloz, about 130 kilometers east of Havana.
It is very close to the Varadero area and includes the Motembo field, which was the first Cuban oil field, discovered in 1881. The strip of heavy oil in northern Cuba has an area of 320 kilometers and covers about five kilometers offshore. The extracted oil is highly viscous, with a recovery factor of only 10%, but serves to cover 40 percent of the country’s needs, with about four million tons annually.

The geology of Block 9 is analogous to oil systems where the technical staff of MEO has significant experience, a key factor in the company’s request application being accepted by the Cuban authorities, believes the company. “We see great potential in Cuba and in particular, in Block 9 and look forward to working closely with Cupet for mutual benefit,” said Jürgen Hendrich, president of MEO.
But there are several questions about the involvement of MEO and the financial resources available to invest in the island.

Worrisome financial statement
MEO is a small public exploration and production company with operations only in Australia, New Zealand and other islands of Oceania. Apparently, this is the first time that the firm ventures out of its traditional area of operations.
According to its latest financial reports, consulted by CaféFuerte, MEO’s capital is limited. Its assets plummeted from $159,810,505 Australian dollars in 2013 to $26,728,457 in 2014, when it reported net earnings of only $293.425 dollars.

The price of its shares on the stock market are only $ 0.02 cents Australian dollar. (One Australian dollar = 0.83 USD). The Cuban government is eager to revive the hope of abundant oil on the island, which vanished in 2012 after the drilling of three wells in deep waters without satisfactory results.

Unsuccessful attempts were made by Repsol (Spain), PDVSA (Venezuela), PC Gulf (Malaysia) and Gazpromneft (Russia). After the fiasco, all companies that had contracted deep-water blocks withdrew from Cuba, with the exception of PDVSA and the Angolan Sonangol. Cuba promoted its Exclusive Economic Zone in the Gulf of Mexico as having a potential up to 22,000 million barrels, but other estimates put it at between 5,000 and 9,000 million.

 havana-live-karl-marx-teaterHAVANA, December  5 (EFE)  The 36th edition of the Festival of New Latin American Cinema at Havana has kicked off with a homage to Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014), a well known film enthusiast and one of the major promoters of the event.

The opening ceremony was held at Havana’s Karl Marx theater, with an audiovisual montage on the Nobel Prize-winning author, highlighting his role in promoting projects such as the New Latin American Film Foundation and The International Film and TV School in San Antonio de los Baños.
The Havana Film Festival was followed by a solo concert by Cuban singer Pablo Milanes, who made use of the occasion to recall his personal friendship with the celebrated writer and the wonderful moments they shared. He sang some of his hit numbers like “Dulces recuerdos,” which he said was one of Garcia Marquez’s favorites, “Yolanda” and “El breve espacio en que no estas,” among others.

The Festival’s director Ivan Giroud dedicated this year’s edition to the celebrated novelist for having been an influential and decisive promoter of the festival. “It is a good decision to have this homage to Gabito for the love he showered upon the film school in Cuba and also because he was a big promoter of Latin American films,” Jaime Garcia Marquez told Efe refering to his deceased brother.
Screening of documentaries related to his life, works and legacy, a discussion and presentation of books were a part of the tribute the writer of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, who often participated in many such events in the same space during his lifetime.

Wild Tales by Argentine filmmaker Damian Szifron was the film selected to begin the festival, coinciding with the first digital projection at the event, a novelty by the organizers to add more quality to the event. This film, which is Argentina’s selection for the Oscars in the best foreign film category, is among the favorites to win the Coral prize at the festival.
It is also among the probables to receive the Goya award as the best Ibero-American film, and has already received wide critical and public acclaim since its release in May. The competition will screen 116 films, including 42 feature films, 21 short films of fiction, 30 documentaries and 23 animated films, along with 25 unproduced scripts and 11 posters.

The jury, headed by Bolivian filmmaker Juan Carlos Valdivia will be responsible for deciding the winners in the categories namely feature films, short and medium-length films, direction and acting, among others. Winter Sleep, the winner at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals this year and the Romanian film Child’s Pose are also set to feature in the event, along with productions from Spain, Canada, Italy, Germany and the United States.

 havana-live-ponderosa-toursHAVANA, 5 December (By Claire Boobbyer) The youngest son of Che Guevara is launching a motorbike tour company in Cuba, named after the revolutionary’s bike, La Poderosa.

The youngest son of Che Guevara, whose The Motorcycle Diaries is one of the most iconic travelogues of all time, is launching motorbike tours of Cuba this month. Ernesto Guevara’s La Poderosa Tours ( will run trips for bikers on two routes across Cuba using Harley-Davidsons.
The company is named after the motorbike used by Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara when he toured the South American continent for nine months in 1952. La Poderosa II (the Mighty II) was the nickname the Argentine medical student gave to his motorbike, a Norton 500cc, which he rode 8,000 miles from Argentina to Venezuela along with his biochemist companion Alberto Granado.

The account of this life-changing road trip was first published as a memoir, The Motorcycle Diaries, in 1993 and subsequently turned into a 2004 film with the same title. Che Guevara was in Mexico in 1955 when he met young firebrand Fidel Castro. Guevara’s revolutionary identity had been forged in Guatemala two years earlier.
Together with Fidel, and Raúl Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, the rebels with a cause plotted the overthrow of Cuba’s then dictator Fulgencio Batista. When Fidel’s grassroots revolution succeeded in 1959, Che Guevara was at Fidel’s side. Ernesto Guevara, 49, is the son of Che and his second wife Aleida March.

He has teamed up with his friend Camilo Sánchez and mechanic Sergio Morales to lead the La Poderosa trips. Ernesto told Telegraph Travel: “I have been a fan of classic Harleys all my life and I like to restore them, too. My love of bikes, of bike trips and of Cuba, and the desire to show my fellow Harley bikers my beautiful country, has been the reason for setting up the tours.”
La Poderosa Tours covers two routes – dubbed Fuser 1 and Fuser 2 for the nickname Che Guevara had in his younger years – using either a Harley Touring Street Glide or a Dyna Wide Glide. havana-live-ponderosa As well as riding past the ubiquitous images of Che Guevara painted on billboards across the island, tour highlights include visits to places connected to the revolutionary:
the Comandancia del Che (a small museum dedicated to him) at the monumental 18th-century Cabaña fortress at Havana’s harbour, where Che had his headquarters; and Che Guevara’s mausoleum in Santa Clara.

In 1965, Che Guevara severed his ties with Cuba to fulfil his ambition to export revolution to other countries. In 1966, he left for Bolivia and formed a guerrilla force. He was captured and executed in 1967 in La Higuera. It wasn’t until 1997 that Guevara’s remains were discovered and sent to Cuba to be interred in the mausoleum that stands in the Plaza de la Revolución.

 havana-live-cocktails-colorsHAVANA, 3 December The Cuban bartender Yuleidi Sánchez will represent Cuba at the fourth edition of the Global Beefeater Bartender Competition (drinks with gin), to be held on January 15, 2015 in London, UK.

Sanchez took first place in a meeting of this kind held in the Hotel Riviera in Havana attended by dozens of colleagues from other tourist facilities in the country, as Varadero. The panel of judges in Havana was chaired by Sebastian Hamilton, ambassador of the brand of gin in the world, and composed of national bartenders and sommeliers.havana-live-bartender sanchez
The winner (34 years) presented an aperitif cocktail named El Cuervo, with which she earned her pass to international competition in London. This type of test is performed for the first time in Cuba and led the organization of the company Havana Club International SA, and support of the Association of Bartenders of Cuba (ACC).
Those attending the event of the Cuban capital were inspired by London culture to create their drinks, where the house Beefeater gin, considered the most awards of its kind in the world.

havana-live-se-vendeHAVANA, 2  December  Cuba’s government has enacted new regulations for the sale, purchase and gifting of homes to prevent attempts at tax evasion, Communist Party daily Granma said on Monday.

The new rules for property transactions were approved last Friday’s Cabinet meeting, chaired by President Raul Castro. The rules provide for “a new market-related reference value to be applied to the donation and sale/purchase of housing units.”
Variables to determine the reference value include “the number of bedrooms, type of construction, urban services, neighborhood characteristics and the existence of garages, patios and gardens,” Granma said. The sale and purchase of housing units between private citizens were authorized in 2011 after a decades-long ban.

To alleviate a chronic shortage of decent housing, the government in 2010 began licensing construction and lifted restrictions on the sale of building materials.
Last year, the government expanded a credit and subsidy program to finance home construction and repairs to existing homes. Cuba’s Central Bank has lent some 3.23 billion pesos ($135 million) to individuals over the past three years, with 63 percent of the funds channeled to the construction and repair of houses and apartments.
Housing is one of the most pressing social problems in Cuba, where nearly 40 percent of homes are in disrepair and the housing deficit is estimated at more than 600,000 units.

havana-live-bus-accidentHAVANA, 2 December (AFP) Forty-one French tourists and two locals were injured in Cuba Monday when the bus they were traveling in hit another vehicle, media reports and diplomatic sources said.

Seven are said to be in a serious condition. In addition to the tourists, the Cuban driver and tour guide were also hurt, said the news agency Prensa Latina. Seven of the French nationals were in serious condition after the accident in central Cuba following a visit to a monument to Che Guevara, said an official at the French Embassy.
All 43 injured were taken to a hospital in Cienfuegos, 250 kilometers (160 miles) southeast of Havana, the diplomat said. The bus struck a vehicle traveling in the same direction as the bus was returning to Varadero from Santa Clara, where the tourists had visited a monument that holds the remains of the Argentine-Cuban guerrilla fighter.

Cuban television said the bus was dragged several meters and locals used a crane to lift the bus and help the injured, it reported.
The accident came during the busy season for Cuban tourism, in which thousands of visitors from Europe, Canada and Latin America flock to the island. Tourism is one of Cuba’s main source of revenue. The government has forecast it will receive around three million visitors this year.

 havana-live-buena-fe-se-bota-a-matar Havana, Dec 1 (PL)  Cuban filmmaker Ian Padron and music group Buena Fe were today the winners in the main video event of this country, Lucas 2014.

The video clip “Se bota a matar”, directed by Ian Padron and sung by Buena Fe, won the awards for Best Video of the Year, Best Fusion Video and Best Production. The awards ceremony of Lucas 2014 began yesterday night and continued until the first half hour of today at the Karl Marx Theater, packed with thousands of music fans.
Due to the interest of the people, and as tickets were swiftly sold out, organizers placed on the same street a large screen to broadcast live the ceremony to a thousand people gathered out there.

The jury also gave special awards to the record label EGREM (Company of Recordings and Musical Editions), for its 50 years of work, and the Distributor Company of the Cuban Radio and Television, RTV Commercial. The ceremony had two solemn times to pay tribute to two great figures of Cuban music who died this year, Juan Formell and Santiago Feliu.

The video clip “Besando tu boca” by Los Angeles, directed by Manuel Ortega, was given the Popularity Award. Prima ballerina of the National Ballet of Cuba Sadaise Arencibia announced the winner for Best Choreography Video, given to the the famous video clip “Bailando”, directed by Alejandro Perez, which recently earned three Latin Grammys for Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias and Cubans Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona.

 havana-live-britisch-fregattHavana, Nov 30 (PL) The British Royal Navy frigate HMS ARGYLL, arrived today in this capital for a friendly visit.
A 21-gun salute from the visiting ship was reciprocated by a battery from the Fortress of San Carlos de La Cabana. Commander Paul Hammond said this is an opportunity to further strengthen relations with the Cuban people.

In a meeting held at the Mayors House, Vice President of the Public Administration Council in Havana, Juan Montalvo, told the visitor that he will be able to verify the Cubans’ effort to improve the economic situation of their country.
Montalvo gave Hammond the Medal for the 495th Anniversary of the City. As part of their stay in Cuba, the British sailors will develop a busy agenda, including meetings with top officials of the Cuban Revolutionary Navy and visits to places of historical and cultural interest. According to an official not, the population will be allowed to visit the ship on 11:00-14:00 local time today.

havana-live-Rent HAVANA, 27 November (Reuters) In Bob Nederlander Jr.’s mission to export Broadway to new markets around the world, he found an old one where the American art form lay dormant for a least 50 years – Cuba.

After testing the Cuban appetite with a 2011 concert of Broadway show tunes, Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment decided to stage a three-month run of “Rent,” the first Broadway musical exported to Cuba in decades. “We were all blown away by the reaction,” Nederlander said of the 2011 show. “Standing ovations. People cheering, on their feet dancing.”
Based on that and interest from Cuba’s Culture Ministry, “we then suggested we bring authentic Broadway here to Cuba; that we do it in Spanish with Cuban actors and musicians,” Nederlander told Reuters from Havana’s 350-seat Bertolt Brecht Theater on the second day of rehearsals. “Rent” will premiere on Dec. 24, just two months after casting.

The Americans will direct and provide set design, sound, lights, choreography and the wardrobe. Nederlander is part of the third generation of his family business, the entertainment empire behind hits such as “Chicago,” “La Cage aux Folles” and “West Side Story.” The Cuban production is a total financial loss meant as a cultural exchange, Nederlander said, declining to reveal any details.
Cuba’s National Council for Performing Arts is sharing expenses. Broadway shows were popular in Cuba before the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, but what happened after that is unclear, an official from the National Council for Peforming Arts said. The United States imposed a trade embargo, and Cuba banned some capitalist influences from the Caribbean island.

Whatever the reason, the curtain came down on Broadway in Cuba. Nederlander, who has a license from the U.S. government for this show, said “Rent” was chosen because it was contemporary, youthful and had a relatively simple set.
The show debuted on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre in 1996, winning the Tony for Best Musical, and ran for 12 years. Andy Señor Jr., a Cuban-American who will direct “Rent” in Cuba, also hoped the play’s gay story lines would resonate in a country where homosexuality was not decriminalized until 1979.

“‘Rent’ is such a celebration of who you choose to be in your life,” Señor said. “I’m hoping the gay community knows about the show and comes to see it, and that they’re able to see themselves on stage.”
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta)

2050966028_b0fb319930HAVANA, Nov 26 (acn) Havana has great possibilities to be one of the seven wonder cities of modern world, asserted on Tuesday Jean Paul de la Fuente, head of Value Development of the New 7 Wonder Foundation of Switzerland, who is on a visit to Cuba until Thursday.

The final list in which Havana could appear will be released on December 7, so in a meeting with the press the executive asked for Cuban support for the campaign with that purpose, with the creation and expansion of vote mechanisms throughout Cuba.
The process of voting on line to choose the seven wonder cities began in 2012 with over 1, 200 nominations of approximately 220 countries, and on October 7, 2013, the list with the initial 300 aspirants was made public. Later, the number of cities was reduced to 28 and on October 7 the 14 finalists were presented.

These cities are: Barcelona (Spain), Beirut (Lebanon), Chicago (the United States), Doha (Qatar), Durban (South Africa), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), La Paz (Bolivia), London (the United Kingdom), Mexico City (Mexico), Perth (Australia), Quito (Ecuador), Reykjavik (Island), Havana (Cuba) and Vigan (the Philippines).

 havana-live-marquezHAVANA, 26 November (Photo Reuters) The Colombian author and journalist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was one of the founders of the film festival. The 36th edition of the Havana Film Festival will honor one of his creators .

Gabo, as he was known, died in April in Mexico City, where he used to live. He is considered one of the greatest spanish speaking novelists and writers of all times and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. He was best known for his many books, like “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” but another of his passions was cinema and writing scripts.
Gabo even participated in several adaptations of his novels. His passion for cinema led him to found and preside over the Foundation of New Latin American Cinema, based in Havana. He was also one of the founders of the Havana Film Festival.

The festival will take place from December 4-14 and will also honor Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro, who has portrayed Ernesto Che Guevara two times on teh silver screen, and Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovski.
The director of the festival, Ivan Giroud, said on Tuesday during a press conference that a total of 478 movies will be shown during the festival. The countries that will compete in the festival are: Argentina, Cuba, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay and Dominican Republic.

1.171761HAVANA, 25 November (By Ryan McPhee)  Rent is coming to Cuba! The Tony and Pulitzer-winning tuner by Jonathan Larson will mark Cuba’s first full production of a musical in over 50 years.
The Spanish-language production will open on Christmas Eve (the same day the first act of the show takes place), at Havana’s Bertolt Brecht Theater. Andy Señor Jr., who made his Broadway debut as Angel in Rent, will direct the cast of 15 Cuban actors.

Based on Puccini’s La Bohème, Rent tells the story of a group of young artists struggling in New York’s East Village in the early 1990s and the obstacles they face, including AIDS, homelessness, poverty, lack of healthcare and homophobia.

The Great Whiite Way production of Rent opened on April 29, 1996, following a sold-out, extended limited engagement at off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop. The musical, directed by Michael Greif, went on to win every major Best Musical award, including the Tony, and became one of only eight musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The show closed on Broadway on September 7, 2008.

Señor made his professional stage debut in Rent. He also toured with the show. In 2011, he was assistant director to Greif for the show’s off-Broadway revival.
As previously reported, a workshop production of an updated Carmen Jones, another musical inspired by a classic opera, took place in Havana earlier this year.

havana-live-architecturaHAVANA, November 24  About 450 experts and researchers from 33 countries, as well as 694 Cubans, are participating in 17th Scientific Convention on Engineering and Architecture, to be opened today in the capital.

 The meeting, the major event on this sphere of knowledge taking place in Cuba, will be run until November 28 at the Havana’s Conference Center.
About 15 scientific events conform this convention, among them are workshops, symposiums and collateral forums, with researches linked to energy, environmental issues, new technologies, biotechnology and food. 687 works by foreign experts plus other 760 by Cuban researchers conform the scientific and cultural spectrum of the convention.

The scientific program also includes 55 keynote speeches by figures from 18 countries. Organizers expect that this meeting helps to increase collaboration and exchange of experiences and results, which will be presented by representatives from universities, research institutes, and companies.

 havana-live-jose-martiHAVANA, 23 November The battle for the Cuban charter flight business out of Tampa International Airport has landed in federal court, exposing what U.S. citizens must pay the secretive Cuban government for use of Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

The annual total is somewhere between $31 million and $62 million — more than any other nation pays, said one Cuba analyst — enough to make critics question whether the fee is covering actual costs or going to support Cuba
. Tampa International Airport, by comparison, received $14.6 million in landing fees during 2014 for flights from airlines based in every nation that lands here. On a per-flight basis, the same U.S. plane that pays $275 for landing fees at Tampa International pays up to $24,000 in Havana.

The cost estimates on U.S.-Cuba flights is based on two factors: the revelation in court documents that landing fees range as high as $148 for each U.S. passenger, coupled with the projection that two-thirds of the 635,000 Americans traveling to the island nation in 2014 are destined for the capital city of Havana.
“It is a way to get more money off the U.S. since the U.S. government blocks it from making money in other ways,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a policy analyst for the Cuban government from 1992-94 who now is an academic in Denver and an advocate for better relations between Cuba and the U.S. Lopez-Levy said the U.S. is the only nation in the world that pays such high fees to land in Havana.

 havana-live-child-abuseHAVANA, 22 November A Canadian, an Indian and two Italians were sentenced to prison in Havana for having sex with minors in Cuba. In addition two other foreigners are awaiting trial and 13 Cubans have been convicted on this.

The Canadian was sentenced to 13 years, the Indian sentenced to a combined 30 years for crimes of corruption of minors and illegal drug trafficking and the 2 Italian sentenced to 23 and 25 years respectively on charges of murder and corruption of minors . While 2 other foreigners (English and Spanish) are pending the hearing of the trial for having sex with minors.

All this was presented in a report published by the Cuban Foreign Ministry which says that Cuba applies zero tolerance to human traffic and sexual abuse of any kind.
Moreover, the report noted that “since the middle of 2013 the police authorities because of provide tracking information indicating the existence of alleged cases of trafficking of young Cubans abroad, giving rise to research that still maintain its course.”

“We have been able to identify a group of Cubans traveling or residing in the related foreign-nationals, who are dedicated to the collection and transfer of victims under false promises of employment contracts, for which cover expenditure on output and the journey of these, fulfilling the legal formalities in place” it said. The report added that “in this way a debt must be paid by the exercise of prostitution in the country of destination.”
Source: Diario de Cuba

havana-live-enriqueiglesiasbailandoHAVANA, 21 November  “Bailando”, the popular theme of Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias and the Cubans Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona, was the big winner at the gala of the Latin Grammys in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.

The song won the awards for Song of the Year, Best Urban Performance and Urban Song on a night in which the announcement by President Obama on US immigration policy, made shortly before the Grammys got underway, was widely celebrated.
“This is a historic day for all Latin Americans living in the United States,” said Enrique Iglesias on a video connection from Paris when receiving one of the three prizes. In addition, the 43 students missing in Mexico since 26 September were remembered by the artists and audience.
Iglesias, Bueno and Gente de Zona were the big winners, but they were not present in Las Vegas as they are on a European tour. The gala ended with “Dancing” but played by them at a concert in Madrid. 

 havana-live-mosqueeHAVANA, 21 November  After the Turkish president said a mosque would be appropriate on the spot where he claims that Muslims discovered the Americas, a site has reportedly been allocated for a mosque’s construction in the Cuban capital Havana.

Five acres of land in the Old Havana district of the city have been spared, and Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) is working towards constructing the mosque, daily Vatan reported on Nov. 20.
Diyanet Vice General Manager Mustafa Tutkun, who is negotiating the possibility of a mosque’s construction in Cuba between Cuban officials and Turkey, said they had proposed the construction of a mosque similar to the picturesque Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul. However, he added that Cuban officials would prefer the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (IOC) to construct the mosque, rather than one country.

“Our foundation is ready to pay the costs of [the mosque]. This idea first came out as our foundation’s project and bilateral visits then took place. The land where the mosque can be constructed is ready. We are thinking of building a [mosque] similar to the Ortaköy Mosque,” said Tutkun.
Speaking to an audience at the 1st Latin American Muslim Leaders Summit in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hit international headlines by claiming that Muslim sailors arrived in America in 1178, more than 300 years before Christopher Columbus. He also said Columbus had mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast.

Erdoğan later instructed Turkey’s educational institutions to adopt a policy of highlighting the contribution of Islam to global science and arts, including the discovery of the American continent by Muslim sailors. The president underlined that he is not the first to make this suggestion, referring to claims found in books written by Germany-based Turkish Professor Fuat Sezgin.

 havana-live-sun-countryHAVANA, 20 November (eTurboNews) Cuba Travel Services will now be offering direct flights from New York’s JFK Airport to Havana, Cuba. Cuba Travel Services arranges flights operated by American Airlines and Sun Country Airlines to popular destinations including Havana, Cienfuegos, Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.

Cuba Travel Services believes expanding its flight network will provide licensed travelers more options at a substantial savings. Currently, authorized passengers from the New Jersey/New York areas experience connection delays, additional baggage fees and extra domestic ticket costs when connecting to Cuba through Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa.
Although initial request to operate flights to Havana from Newark Liberty International Airport was denied by local airport authorities, the JFK airport is easily accessible from New Jersey.

This new market features one of the largest Cuban American populations in the United States, second only to Florida. In the spirit of the recent New York Times Editorial published on October 11, 2014 titled “Obama Should End the Embargo On Cuba”, Cuba Travel Services chose to provide this important cultural and social link between the two cities.
The new service will also offer a cost effective travel solution to those Cuban Americans seeking to visit family.
Flight Information: The new flights to Havana will be arranged by Cuba Travel Services and operated by Sun Country Airlines which will utilize next generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft with first and coach class configuration.

 havna-live-huitiasIn this Nov. 17, 2014 photo, Congui, a domesticated huitia, rides on the front door of an American classic car driven by its owner Rafael Lopez, in Bainoa, Cuba. Five years ago Lopez and his wife Ana Pedraza adopted Congui, their first pet huitia, a large rodent that lives in Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas and some of the smaller Caribbean islands. More than a half-dozen more of the furry animals have been born at their home after occasionally bringing in a male huitia in to mate with Congui.(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA, 19 November (AFP) Some people keep guinea pigs or hamsters as pets. But in Cuba, where a larger, more exotic rodent runs wild, Ana Pedraza and her husband prefer the huitia.

With a rope-like tail and long front teeth, the huitia looks like a giant rat, only cuter, some would say. They live in Cuba and other Caribbean islands where they are sometimes hunted for food.
But Pedraza and her husband Rafael Lopez say they only want to want to protect and take care of the animals, which measure nearly a foot long (about 30 centimeters), with the largest ones weighing in bigger than a small dog.

The couple began collecting huitias about five years ago when they found one languishing on a roadside and named her Congui. They found her a mate and now have more than a half-dozen huitias in their home about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the capital, Havana. Congui and her brood like to drink sweetened coffee and munch on crackers and vegetables. Her son Pancho enjoys an occasional nip of rum.

 havana-live-partagas-factory HAVANA, November 18 (Prensa Latina) The XXVII edition of the Meeting of Clients and Friends of the Partagas House began yesterday in Havana and was attended by 350 businessmen from twenty countries, rather interested in smoking cigars.

Businessmen, executives and traders arrived in Cuba this Monday 21 November to hold ceremonies and meetings mostly private, which will allow a close approach to one of the most important brands of the handmade Premium Cuban cigar.
The director of the Partagas House, Grecia Quiñones, said that smokers worldwide who love this brand and place, located in the Partagas building (founded in 1845, Industria No. 520, behind the Capitolio of Havana) will participate.havana-live-Partagas

Among those attending the ceremony are cigar lovers from Germany, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Kuwait, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Spain, Greece, Cayman Islands, Italy, Netherlands, United Kingdom, China, Japan, Singapore, Chile, France, United States, Sweden and the hosts. This event is organized by the Commercial Business Group Tiendas Caracol S.A. when the Partagas House also celebrates its 21st anniversary.
Dinners for smokers, competitions, artistic performances and tours in Havana, Varadero beach and rural farms complete the event, that has already become customary, including a closure in the protocol center of the Cuban government El Laquito. Habano cigars are considered the best in the world for the three-fold condition of the soil, climate and the experience of producers, with 37 brands, among which Partagas stands out.